BAGUIO CITY – An anti-graft crusader disclosed that this year’s P2.6 trillion national budget is full of pork barrel and congressional initiative funds even as the Aquino administration and Congress leaders insist that the budget is already pork barrel free.
Lawyer Levito Baligud, former legal counsel of pork barrel fund scam whistle-blower Benhur Luy, said the line item budgeting adopted by the budget department for this year’s national budget as a mechanism to eliminate pork barrel and congressional initiative funds failed to remove the sole intervention of lawmakers to their priority projects distributed in different parts of their districts and in the archipelago for senators.
“The mere fact that a lawmaker sends a communication letter to the budget department or concerned departments where his priority projects will be funded indicates that the lawmaker has still a direct hand in the identification and funding of such projects which is a major component of pork barrel funds,” Baligud stressed.
He branded the current practice of line item budgeting as a mere circumvention of the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) that declared as unconstitutional the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation of lawmakers that was P200 million for each of the 24 senators and P70 million for each of the 290 members of the House of Representatives.
Baligud explained the country will only be able to graduate from the traditional and up to date pork barrel system of allocating the government’s meager resources if Congress is willing to approve a 30 to 50-year development plan which will simply be followed by succeeding administrations, especially in the distribution of the government’s meagre resources.
According to him, there is no sustainability in the implementation of the government’s development projects because of the one year budget cycle that tends to change every year and affects the gains of whichever administration.
“If our government officials have the political will to follow the footsteps of Australia that recently approved the creation of a Council for the Future to craft its long-term master development plan, then the country will be able to eliminate the pork barrel system because the project have already been identified and the role of the Chief Executive is just to pick up from the list the projects to be funded during his term,” Baligud added.
He cited there should be rhythm and reason in the prioritization of government programs and projects in order to achieve sustainability but the lack of political maturity among Filipinos is holding the country from realizing a much bigger and faster pace of development that would improve the living condition of poor Filipinos in the countryside.
Baligud emphasized the mere fact the priority programs and projects are changed everytime a new administration takes over the leadership of the country significantly affects the pace of economic growth and the attitude of the people towards government because it will be again back to where it started three, six or nine years ago.
He opined the existence of a medium and long-term master development plan for the government that details overall priority programs and projects will keep the succeeding administrations right on track because they will be mandated to strictly adhere to what was approved by Congress as the country’s direction for the next several decades.
“We challenge our lawmakers to initiate and approve a long-term development plan for our country so that we will not be easily changing our priorities every six years that our leaders change. Let us first stick to what was approved as the country’s direction for the next three to five decades before we again speak of another wave of priority programs and projects,” Baligud said.
When asked to comment if the current administration can muscle its way through Congress for it to pass a legislated development plan, Baligud claimed the country’s present batch of leaders do not yet have the political will to do so because they do not want to remove their influence in the allocation of the government’s meager resources that are distributed in the different departments because the electorate demand for performance from their elective officials.
He said the problem with the PDAF before is the direct hand of lawmakers to the distribution of their respective allocations but the same has exited even after the SC declared as unconstitutional the PDAF that is why the executive must do something to remove the direct intervention of lawmakers to the distribution of funds because that is not their duty under the Constitution.
Baligud revealed lawmakers have the luxury of enjoying more allocations for their districts compared to the P200 million limit for senators and the P70 million limit for congressman because they are allowed to lobby for congressional insertions with the permission of Cabinet officials which translate to the blatant circumvention of the SC ruling.
He challenged lawmakers to have the political will in giving up their direct hand in the allocation of the country’s meager resources and allow the executive to use it following a legislated development blueprint in order to hasten the growth of the country as the new ‘tiger of Asia.’
By Dexter A. See